Anne was having a tough time getting Jack to the table.
“C’mon, Grampy. Come sit up to the table.” said Anne, desperately.
“Can’t you just bring it in here?” asked Jack, innocently.
He needed to come to the table. Needed to keep trying to walk and talk and keep moving. The leukemia was nearing its final stages, and Jack was tired. So tired, but he didn’t want to disappoint. Anne helped him lurch from the couch to the walker on shaky feet, her calloused and arthritic hands grasping flannel while Anne inwardly prayed there would be no fall. The falls were getting worse. Jack was at least twice her size, and some days and nights, she just didn’t have the strength. Some nights he would just gently slide to the floor, and on those nights she would bring a blanket over and sleep with him on the floor. It was most difficult when it was outdoors. Once she had helped load him into a snow scoop to get him back in the door. Other times there was the embarrassing call to Wayne to come over and give her a hand. She hated that she needed help. She hated that she wasn’t strong enough to take care of him. But she needed him to keep trying.
“There you go. There you go, Grampy. Just take it nice and slow.” said Anne, guiding him the short distance to the kitchen table.
He took small shuffling steps, his slippers scrapping over the linoleum to the gentle squeak of the walker’s wheels. The danger came when he had to sit back down. Anne held the chair to make sure he couldn’t slide away, and his large frame plopped into the seat. There was a waft of urine that she tried to ignore. Incontinence was a way of life now. Anne went to the microwave and took out his potatoes. His diet had become more and more difficult after the medication switches. Nothing tasted good. Meat was gone from his diet, and by association hers. It was funny how some of his favorite foods didn’t appeal to him now. How his normal passion for eating had left him. His frame was still the mass of bone and skin, but the muscles were nowhere to be seen. Jack smiled impishly.
“Can I have something sweet, Grandma?”
“I think I have some yogurt.”
“Oh, all right Grampy, I’ll get you some ice cream and strawberries.”
Jack smiled once again. Pleased to have one of the few things he could still relish. The dish was small, but it was cool, and the strawberries were alive even as the snow storm outside raged. After iced cream Anne helped Jack back to his place on the sofa. It crinkled with plastic bag she had placed there to contain the urine. It was not worth the troubles of the bathroom. The chance of a fall wasn’t worth it and company was scarce anyhow.
She got him situated with some water, and an ancient western, and gently patted his hand, and then kissed his head. She went over and sat in her chair.
“Here we are, Grampy, snug as bugs in a rug.” said Anne, smiling.
“Sure are, Grandma. It’s sure coming down out there.” said Jack, sucking the last seeds from his teeth.
“It sure is, but we don’t have anywhere to go.” said Anne, kicking back the Easy Boy.
“Nope. No big plans.” said Jack, trying to figure out the western.
Anne smiled and leaned back. This was already a good day.
“I might doze a little, Grampy.” said Anne.
“I won’t go anywhere, Grandma. You just doze.” said Jack.
Jack was asleep before her, and as he gently snored on the sofa, Anne drifted away to the sounds of hoof beats and six guns. She had stoked the oven in the morning and the heat was narcotic. The hiss of the hot air and the gentle clicks of the cooling oven. The gentle whisper of the snow and Anne was in the passenger’s seat. Jack was at the wheel, and both the windows were open. The air smelled of burning leaves, and Fall was in full bloom. Fall was always their favorite season, and Anne was pregnant with James. She didn’t marvel at it, just leaned over and leaned on Jack as his powerful, tanned arm gently teased the wheel. The gravel road kicked up waves of dust behind them in the rearview.
“Oh, Jack. I might just lay my head in your lap.” said Anne, smiling and warm.
“You go ahead and sleep if you want to, Moo. I’ll wake you up when we get there.” said Jack.
But there was no where they were going. It was just the only time that Anne could feel comfortable these days. James was so ready to meet them, and he wouldn’t let her sleep, but in the truck he would settle down and stop kicking, and Anne could sleep. There was no where they were going, and Jack would have driven for days for her. Would have driven the wheels off the truck if she needed it. She woke up and there was the smell of urine and old coffee. The truck was still moving, but Jack was gone, and the wheel was spinning out of control. She sat up and looked out the windshield and the world was on fire and exploding.
Anne inhaled deep and sharp. She had not had a dream like that in years. So vivid and clear. Strong enough to pull her awake. The western was still going, or it was another western, they all become the same western after a while. The volume seemed quiet. Like cowboys and Indians should be killing one another louder and Anne realized what was missing was the snoring. She looked over to the couch, but he was gone, and suddenly her heart sank into her stomach and she knew that she was probably still dreaming. Dreaming even clearer.
She dropped the hammer on the Lazy Boy and had to take a minute to get life back into her legs.
“Grampy!? Where are you Grampy?” asked Anne, trying to keep the fear out of her voice, “Are you in the bathroom? Did you go to bed?”
How did he get up? He hadn’t gotten up by himself in what seemed like months, but was probably only weeks. She didn’t think he still could. She got life back into her legs and found the ground. It wasn’t a dream. This was here, and Grampy had to go to the bathroom. She made her way there, but the door was open, and inside was vacant. The bedroom next, and nothing there, and her heart won’t leave her stomach and why is it so cold? The boards are going out downstairs, and everything creeks as she goes to the kitchen and where can he be?
“Grampy! Don’t scare Grandma, now! Where are you?!” asks Anne.
He couldn’t have gotten outside. Not in this storm. The front door is locked with the bolt and Anne looks around and sees it and she reaches for the frame of the door to look down and she can’t cry out the question she had, because she sees before she can ask, and her entire world shatters like glass around her. Grampy is at the bottom of the stairs, silent, and still, and broken. She sees the walker near him likewise twisted and broken and knows that he was just trying to fire the stove. He just didn’t want to wake her up. She knew it as soon as she saw it, and there was nothing she could do, and she was all alone now. All alone in the middle of the storm and surrounded with broken glass.
“Oh Grampy…” she tries to speak, but her words break, and the tears fall like rain.
She is too tired to sob. Too weak to collapse, and only the door frame is holding her up. Keeping her in the world. She thinks back. The dream returns to her and she remembers all the years between that Fall and now. The miles and the laughter and the ice cream and the hands folded together like they were made to fit as one. Anne had always seen a vision of their hands, interlocked and eternal, kissed by God and sealed forever in grace. This was not something she could define, or tell anyone, but something that she knew, all the same. She pushes off the frame and the world remains under her for a moment and she knows.
“Oh Grampy, I love you.” she says, and lets go, and falls.
The pain is not much. Two children, arthritis, 2 hornets’ nests, porcupine quills, needles and all have passed over and through her, and she is not really there. The tumbling fall is to the roar of six cylinders and the rush of cold white hot winter air through the windshield, and the distance between them is gone, and in the end they find one another at rest next to one another. Twisted and broken and whole. Within the chaos at the bottom of the stairs there is the simplicity of their bodies at rest and together. Fit together against the obscenity and at sleep, together, at last.